The exploration – exploitation dichotomy is one of the most foundational and omnipresent trade-offs in our lives. From the mundane and the everyday to the complex and the life-changing, we are forever confronted with the explore-exploit dilemma. Should we try the new restaurant or stick with the tried and true? Should we start a business or stay in our jobs? Optimizing for one seems to minimize the other. Either choice can leave us saddled with the burden of “what-if?”
To explore is to look, whereas to exploit is to use. Exploration is risky, whereas exploitation is security. Exploration is novelty, whereas exploitation is familiarity. Exploration is acknowledging uncertainty, whereas exploitation has the trappings of certainty. The tool of choice to explore is a compass, whereas exploitation needs a map. Exploration requires privileges, whereas exploitation is a necessity. Exploration is freedom, whereas exploitation is constraints. Exploration can be without objectives, exploitation is goal-oriented. Exploration is “non-linear,” where effects and their causes are unrecognizable. Exploitation is linear, where causes can be traced from effects.
While the biological world is also abound with examples of this dichotomy, the trade-off is transformed into a continuum and a loop. The “either-or” becomes a “both” and each feeds the other. Exploitation enables exploration and exploration facilitates exploitation in a positive feedback loop. Life, with the privilege of billions of years and the abundant affordances of the planet, is a meandering and sprawling process with continuous loops of exploration and exploitation. Ceaseless explorations via mutations and symbiosis and exploitation of the novel affordances offered by those successful explorations. Theodosius Dobzhansky famously said “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution”. As biological organisms that are part of nature and different in degree rather than type, nothing in human social and personal life makes complete sense except in the light of evolution.
In French, the verb essayer means ‘to attempt’ or ‘to embark upon.’ I hope to embark on explorations within through ideas without. Using the framework of writing to codify and synthesize thoughts with readings and experiences. Grateful and aware of my affordances – books, time, money, social support – and using the compass of exploration, these essays will serve as an expression of my investigations of the world. As the historian Will Durant stated, “the only real revolution is in the enlightenment of the mind and the improvement of character, the only real emancipation is individual.”